SAN DIEGO — San Diego Unified leaders announced the school district would take action to expand its supplemental meal program despite federal cuts and new proof of eligibility requirements for hungry families.
The Department of Agriculture last week moved to end the flexible Summer Food Service and Seamless Summer Option programs. The agency decision will require school districts to severely limit the amount of food distributed to hungry families in the community, the district claims.
"I am frankly shocked anyone would seek to cut food aid to families in the middle of a public health crisis," San Diego Unified Board President John Lee Evans said. "USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue needs to step up and use the power of his office to support San Diego families in need."
San Diego Unified is working with partners Feeding San Diego and the San Diego Food Bank to make sure all families that need assistance are able to receive it, district leaders said in a statement. Both organizations will be providing essential supplies to families at San Diego Unified feeding locations.
The district will more than triple the number of free food locations from 26 to 82 designated meal pick-up sites for the upcoming school year. Students or their parents/guardians who qualify for subsidized meals can drive through or walk up to receive breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday, from noon to 2 p.m. during the 2020-21 school year, which begins on Aug. 31.
Richard Barrera, the school board's vice president, said the decision by the USDA poses yet another challenge to families already struggling to prepare for the new school year. Families, he said, will now be required to show proof of identification, proof of school of attendance and proof of eligibility in order to receive free meals from the school district.
"For families who are already struggling with the challenges created by the COVID-19 crisis, the federal government has put more barriers in place," Barrera said. "Despite these new obstacles, San Diego Unified staff is prepared to work with all our families and our community partners to make sure no one goes hungry in the new school year."
One action already underway is the district registering every qualified family to participate in the free meals program. Families that live within certain school boundaries qualify automatically. Others must complete a form for qualification.
The district has provided more than 4 million meals to students at curbside grab and go locations since March.
As a result of the federal government's decision to terminate the summer food program waivers, no meals will be distributed from Wednesday through Friday of this week, as schools prepare to transition away from the summer food program. In preparation for the change, San Diego Unified will provide extra meals on Monday and Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to carry students through the week.
"We have worked hard to develop a plan that makes it as easy as possible for students to continue receiving the meals they need," said Gary Petill, director of food and nutrition services for the district.